Can Ukraine Survive?

President Yanukovych has fled Kiev and retreated to the East, but apparently has refused to resign and is characterizing the popular uprising as a “coup.” In the meantime, protesters have taken over Kiev. This remarkable footage of Maidan (Independence Square) was shot yesterday by a drone:

There is talk of new elections being held as early as May, but at the moment the situation is murky. Leaders of the largely Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine say they are taking control of their territories until “constitutional order” is restored. Which, from their perspective, might be never.

Whether Ukraine can survive in its present form has become a serious question. Eastern Ukraine tends to be Russian-speaking and favors closer ties with Russia; western Ukraine is heavily Ukrainian-speaking and favors closer ties with the West. This chart, from Wikipedia, shows the percentage of Ukrainian speakers on the left, matched against results in the 2012 election on the right:


A reader suggests that partition might be a good thing:

Basically, Ukraine needs to be partitioned. Historically it has never had much independence or clear borders. Post WWI, Ukraine was not on the agenda to become an independent nation-state, which it essentially had never been. Post WWII, Stalin gave Ukraine (and Byelorussia) “autonomy” in foreign affairs to get two extra U.N. votes and then Khrushchev, born and raised on the Ukrainian border and later premier of Ukraine, gave them Russian Crimea to consolidate his political base and overcome some of the alienation from the Great Famine and their tenuous allegiance during the war.

There is definitely a “narcissism of small differences” thing going on, too: what’s the difference: Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian? Not much, ethnically, linguistically or culturally.

Let the part of Ukraine on the left bank of the Dnieper be autonomous from the right bank. If east Ukraine, largely Russian and the more prosperous half, wants to link up with Russia, who cares? And vice versa for the west bank — they are Ukrainian, and Ukrainian Orthodox and Uniate Orthodox (Eastern Rite Catholics). If they want to join the EU, let ‘em.

That approach implies a partition of Kiev, which sits on the Dnieper more or less in the middle of the country. Not sure how that would work. And, of course, the Ukrainians themselves have something to say about the matter. But if the pro-Russian elements in the east refuse to participate in an election and won’t agree with the western half as to what constitution will be in effect, partition may happen by default.

Splitting up the country is an idea that is suddenly on the table, among pundits, anyway. Foreign Affairs has a good primer on Ukrainian history, which recognizes the potential for division (“Is There One Ukraine?”). Spengler writes that “Ukraine Should Vote on Partition.” In Ukraine’s case, partition would certainly be preferable to civil war.


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